Keeping the arts vital

January 20, 1992

There is a contradiction in Baltimore County's insisting that it will continue to support the arts yet, at the same time, pulling the plug on its most influential advocate.

County Executive Roger Hayden announced last week that in order to save money, he will wipe out the salary of Lois Baldwin, the head of the county's Arts and Sciences and Commission. Also eliminated will be funding for a secretary. Total savings: $63,000. That is not much -- particularly in a $1 billion budget. While the every-penny-counts approach has been endemic to the Hayden administration's fiscal strategy, this is hardly one of the executive's better judgments.

Baldwin performed a valuable function -- recommending to the executive how grant money for the arts should be divvied up. The county administration is correct in pointing out that grant money is itself not affected by this decision. Yet Baldwin served not only as a monitor of government arts spending but as an expert advocate for the arts within government. Theater and dance groups, museums and choruses will still apply for grant money. But with Baldwin's office gone, they must go through the Office of Economic Development which knows relatively little about the arts. The entire process of applying for and receiving grant money could become highly politicized.

The implications stretch far beyond Towson. One of Baldwin's chief roles is recommending to the county executive how much of the arts budget is funneled to Baltimore city. The county's contributions to cultural institutions such as the symphony, city museums and the aquarium have been the most substantial of any city neighbor -- over $1.4 million was allocated this year. Though there is bound to be a continued recognition of the importance of city arts and cultural institutions to the lives of countians, tight fiscal times force reassessment of priorities. No one can predict whether the county's contribution will wane once Baldwin is gone.

What is needed is a regional arts council, with a mandate not only to coordinate grant money from area governments but to ensure that it is properly spent. Such a council would be the foremost advocate for deserving arts institutions throughout the Baltimore metropolis.

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